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Opium and marijuana research go underground
Date:10/31/2007

The worlds leading expert on the opium poppy has joined forces with researchers working on another infamous drug-producing plant cannabis in hopes of finding new uses for the much-maligned sources of heroin and marijuana.

Peter Facchini, professor of Biological Sciences and Canada Research Chair in Plant Biotechnology, has received a $650,000 NSERC Strategic Project Grant to create new varieties of opium poppy and cannabis that can be used for medicinal and industrial purposes, but will have no value as illicit drugs. And his work is taking him where few Canadians have gone before: Deep underground into the countrys ultra high-security medicinal marijuana growth facility.

Its certainly unusual for a plant biochemist to work in a copper mine hundreds of metres underground, Facchini said. This is a really great project that involves two of the worlds most important medicinal plants and is clearly unique in the plant biology field.

Facchini and a new team of U of C postdoctoral researchers have teamed up with Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems Inc., the National Research Council Plant Biotechnology Institute, the Alberta Research Council and the University of Saskatchewan to create and study mutant varieties of opium poppy and cannabis in an unused portion of a copper and zinc mine near Flin Flon, Manitoba. Prairie Plant Systems produces medicinal marijuana under contract with Health Canada in this state-of-the-art facility.

Despite awareness of the importance of crop diversification for the long-term success of agriculture in Canada, few plants are cultivated for the production of high-value bioproducts. Opium poppy accumulates the alkaloids morphine, codeine and thebaine, and cannabis produces psychoactive cannabinoids and is used as a source of high-quality fiber and oil. The domestic market for codeine, morphine and oxycodone, which is derived from thebaine, is in excess of $1.6 billion annually, all of which is currently imported. Canad
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Contact: Grady Semmens
gsemmens@ucalgary.ca
403-220-7722
University of Calgary
Source:Eurekalert

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